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Archive for September, 2008

By: Sam Hunt

Issue date: 9/11/08 Section: Features

Blue Banner http://www.thebluebanner.net/

The seventh annual Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival (LAAFF) hosted more than 30 bands from the Asheville area on Sunday amid dozens of other locals in the visual and performance arts.

“The idea is for everyone to create and be rewarded from that creation,” said Kitty Love, co-founder of LAAFF and executive director of non-profit arts promoter Arts2People. “Culture inspired by personal expression can be an economic engine. Amassing to the maximum number of dollars for personal equity is the goal of life.”

The all-local street festival blocked off Lexington Avenue from beneath the I-240 bridge to the College Street intersection. The street was packed with local artists, fans and families, some of whom wore zombie and circus costumes.

“It’s great to see 400 or so artists come together because all of their work is weird, quirky and unique to Asheville,” 21-year-old Moraea June said.

Joel Hutcheson, owner of Static Age Records on Lexington Avenue, said the festival is healthy for Asheville’s music scene and record stores.

“It’s a response to the Bele Chere festival in the sense that it spotlights local Asheville bands only,” Hutcheson said. “(LAAFF) also helps the record stores out. We don’t sell much more, but there is more generated interest.”

LAAFF attracted music lovers with three performance stages and a variety of genres. The Greenlife Electric Stage featured full-sized electric reggae, jazz and bluegrass, while the Mountain Express Performing Arts Stage hosted more stripped-down country, electronic and rock acts.

June said she preferred the Earth Fare BoBo Stage, which showcased acoustic world bands such as Cabo Verde and singer/songwriter Angi West.

“Angi West was the best artist of the festival,” June said. “There were three band members, but it was mostly Angi singing. She had a unique feminine presence unlike the rest of the bands that were almost exclusively male.”

Crystal Kind, a male four-piece reggae band, supported the legalization of marijuana on the Greenlife stage after their first song.

“Let’s legalize that medical marijuana,” singer/guitarist Ras Berhane said to the Lexington Ave. crowd. “They smoke it all day in California.”

Perhaps the most gripping band of the festival was The Broomstars, an experimental pop/rock band that formed seven years ago in Albuquerque, N.M. and relocated to Asheville in 2006.

The Broomstars stood out on the Mountain Express stage with a surplus of guitar equipment.

“We play around with noise more than most bands in Asheville,” said Broomstars guitarist Jeff Santiago. “We like to experiment with every dynamic to paint a distinct sonic palette.”

The Broomstars return to Lexington Avenue on Saturday for a show at the Emerald Lounge with the Silver Machine, an Asheville-based psychedelic electronic rock band.

“That’s the great thing about LAAFF and Asheville in general; there’s a huge sense of community and so many venues for such a small city,” Santiago said. “It’s hard not to find different types of music on the same bill.”

Rhys Baker, a sophomore student at UNC Asheville focusing on interdisciplinary ethics and social institutions, experienced LAAFF for the first time on Sunday.

“The festival really highlights local music and builds community,” Baker said. “There was a lot of different culture everywhere in sight. I loved the belly dancing and music.”

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by Jason Sandford on 09/08/2008

Mountain Xpress, http://www.mountainx.com/

Michael Mooney again attempted to set a Guinness World Record on Sunday at the Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival with a harrowing ride on a four-story-tall bicycle.

As hundreds of festivalgoers cheered him on, the 38-year-old Mooney mounted the bicycle. In his first attempt, he fell off his 450-pound purple contraption shortly after takeoff. Hooked to a harness held by a towering crane, Mooney swung around and threw his arms in disgust as he was lowered to the ground.

On his second attempt, Mooney did better. To ever-louder exhortations, Mooney completed one of two laps around the Lexington Avenue parking-lot ring, but lost his balance as he started the second lap and fell. The top of his bicycle smacked a concrete retaining wall and bent out of shape. Mooney also appeared to be shaken up and injured as he got tangled in his safety ropes.

This was the second year that Mooney attempted to set the record at the annual festival on Lexington. The current record is held by a rider who pedaled 100 meters on an 18-foot-tall bicycle.

To relive the excitement, check out Managing Editor Jon Elliston‘s photo gallery here, or click on the videos below, which were shot by Elliston.

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor

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Asheville-area food and restaurant news

by Hanna Rachel Raskin in Vol. 15 / Iss. 06 on 09/03/2008

Mountain Xpress http://www.mountainx.com/

Laaff: The greasy crochet of fry that’s synonymous with festival eats won’t be on the menu at the Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival next weekend—co-founder Michael Mooney has put the kibosh on elephant ears. “I had one applicant wanting to sell funnel cakes, and I declined,” he says. “It was too mainstream.” The event is instead taking the local route, featuring vendors selling bohemian-leaning “food and beer made right here in Asheville,” Mooney says.

Anything and everything corporate is banned from the festival, which means even the bottled water comes from a local source. “We don’t allow any sodas,” Mooney says. Eight food vendors stationed at two food courts will offer crepes, curries and yerba mate to hungry festival-goers. In addition to festival-oriented mobile outfits like “Satay A Go Go,” the vendor line-up includes local eateries Barley’s Taproom, Rosetta’s Kitchen, French Broad Chocolate Lounge and Ultimate Ice Cream. “Half of my vendors are vegetarian,” Mooney adds with undisguised pride.

Outdoor Journal

by Margaret Williams in Vol. 15 / Iss. 06 on 09/03/2008

Pedaling to fun: Asheville on Bikes will host the bicycle corral at the Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival on Sunday, Sept. 7. The ardent cyclists need volunteers and happy pedalers. If you’re interested in lending a hand to make Asheville an even better place to ride, contact // ‘;l[1]=’a’;l[2]=’/’;l[3]=”;l[31]=’\”‘;l[32]=’ 109′;l[33]=’ 111′;l[34]=’ 99′;l[35]=’ 46′;l[36]=’ 108′;l[37]=’ 105′;l[38]=’ 97′;l[39]=’ 109′;l[40]=’ 103′;l[41]=’ 64′;l[42]=’ 115′;l[43]=’ 101′;l[44]=’ 107′;l[45]=’ 105′;l[46]=’ 98′;l[47]=’ 110′;l[48]=’ 111′;l[49]=’ 101′;l[50]=’ 108′;l[51]=’ 108′;l[52]=’ 105′;l[53]=’ 118′;l[54]=’ 101′;l[55]=’ 104′;l[56]=’ 115′;l[57]=’ 97′;l[58]=’:’;l[59]=’o’;l[60]=’t’;l[61]=’l’;l[62]=’i’;l[63]=’a’;l[64]=’m’;l[65]=’\”‘;l[66]=’=’;l[67]=’f’;l[68]=’e’;l[69]=’r’;l[70]=’h’;l[71]=’a ‘;l[72]=’= 0; i=i-1){
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Asheville on Bikes is an advocacy group focused on advancing Asheville’s urban-bicycle culture.

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by Jack Igelman

in Vol. 15 / Iss. 06 on 09/03/2008

Mountain Xpress http://www.mountainx.com/

Michael Mooney always climbs back on his bike after a fall. Last year, clad in a top hat and coat with flowing tails, he mounted his 44-foot-tall bike and tried to set a new Guiness World Record during the 2007 Lexington Avenue Arts & Fun Festival.

Before the fall: Mooney posed at the base of his 44-foot-tall bike shortly before his failed attempt to set a world record at last year’s LAAFF. Photo By Jon Elliston

He fell off. (A fall off his 12-foot bike earlier that day had left him with a broken kneecap.)

But this year, the 38-year-old LAAFF co-founder aims to try again.

That’s no surprise. Bicycles have long been part of Mooney’s life: He grew up riding BMX bikes, rode cross-country on a mountain bike and spent several years as a professional downhill racer. In 2000, however, Mooney broke his foot while riding. After that, he took a three-year, self-imposed “bike time out”—only to be seduced by the quirky lure of unusually tall bikes.

Mooney is often seen riding his 6-foot bike, both around town and on the trail. But he clings to his dream of breaking the Guiness record. On Sept. 7, the father of two will make his second attempt to ride tall and get his name in the book. His 4-story, purple contraption cuts a towering, triangular silhouette, weighing in at an unwieldy 450 pounds.

Xpress met up with Mooney recently at a garage in Fairview, where he’s fine-tuning his lofty cycle, and quizzed him about his quest.

Mountain Xpress: What’s a tall bike?
Michael Mooney: It’s usually a two-frame bike where the frames are stacked on top of each other. The wheels are regular-size, so it’s just a really tall frame. I typically ride my 6-foot bike, but I have several others, including the Tanya Harding Special [a 12-footer] and a 44-foot-tall bike.

In love with tall bikes: Michael Mooney aims to set a Guiness World Record for riding the tallest bike — not his every-day bike (pictured), but one that’s four-stories tall. Photo By Dave Keister

How did you get interested in tall bikes?
I saw Jim Lauzon of LaZoom Tours with a tall bike on Lexington Avenue a few years ago and asked if I could ride it. [After that], I was hooked. When I get on a tall bike, I feel like a kid. Sometimes I laugh out loud [because] it’s so much fun.

How long have you been building them, and what’s the technique?
I’ve been making them for four years. I figured out the basics of how to put them together, and I put my own spin on it because I’m a mountain biker. It’s best to start off with a working bike and then add another frame. The most important thing is to line up the steering tube. And it pays to have a friend who knows how to weld.

Besides you and Jim Lauzon, how many people are riding tall bikes?
I’ve loaned out some of my tall bikes for folks to try. But there are clubs in bigger cities.

How often do you ride?
Whenever I can sneak one in, which is tough, since I’m a family man and run a contracting business.

Where do you ride?
I do a lot of trail riding, but I like it all. I like riding around town, because you’re your own parade. Everyone is smiling and waving, and it’s a great conversation-starter. I love it when people stop and say: “That’s cool, man. Let’s party!” It’s [also] safer riding a tall bike than a regular-size street bike in town, since I’m so visible. You aren’t worried about anyone running into you.

What’s your motivation to break the record?
The current record is [a] 100-meter [ride] on an 18-foot-tall bike—[that’s] two laps at the festival. I’m doing it because it is something fun to do. It keeps me active and creative.

Tell us about last year’s record attempt.
I finished building the bike at 3 a.m. on the eve of the festival, and [I] had a two-hour nap before I had to open up, interact with vendors and basically manage the entire day. So I really wasn’t on my game. Right before the record attempt, I was riding figure eights on my 12-foot bike, and there was a piece of rebar in the concrete that took me down. [I] broke my kneecap in four pieces. I duct-taped my leg and figured if I got started [on the 44-foot bike], I could pedal with one foot. I got a good push off the platform, but couldn’t get my pedal stroke around, and that was it.

The fall looked scary. Will you be using a similar safety system?
It may have looked harsh, but it worked perfectly. I’m a nut, but not a stupid nut. I totally trust the system. We worked out a detailed eight-page proposal that we shared with the city and [the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration]. We practiced at least a dozen falls on the 12-foot bike to test the system. Although OSHA didn’t need to approve it, they gave us a letter of blessing, and the city checked off on it because they were convinced that there was no danger to the crowd.

What will you do differently this time?
For one, the bike will be completed well before the festival, and I’ve delegated more festival duties so I can focus on the record attempt. The tall-bike circus will begin at 5:30 p.m. with some warm-up acts, but I won’t be riding the Tanya Harding Special this time. I’m only focusing on the tall bike.

What will you wear for this year’s attempt?
The toughest thing is coming up with a costume. There’s [a] debate [over whether] I had a wardrobe malfunction last year—[perhaps] the tail of my costume got caught in the railing. I may wear a kilt.

[Jack Igelman lives in Asheville.]

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by Hal L. Millard in Vol. 15 / Iss. 06 on 09/03/2008

Related topics: small business, LAAF Festival

While the LAAFF Festival scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 7 (see “LAAFF-In” elsewhere in this issue) may be the one day a year that North Lexington Avenue gets to proudly fly its freak flag, it’s also a day when the commercial thoroughfare gets to showcase its eclectic mix of small businesses.

One big, happy family: The merchants along North Lexington have forged a strong sense of family. “We all have each other’s back,” says Amber Arthur, owner of Izzy’s Coffee Den. Photo By Jon Elliston

“North Lex,” its merchants proclaim proudly, is unlike any other street in town, both in its vibe and its diverse number of independent, locally owned businesses. From its head shop, tattoo-parlor and old-school record stores to the more upscale boutiques, restaurants and other enterprises, no other street so dramatically exemplifies the diverse town Asheville has become as this once sordid but now vibrant little strip of commerce and community.

That last word is key to what makes North Lex tick: Community, according to several business owners interviewed, is a significant driver of the success and revitalization of a street where menace, an illicit sex trade and any number of nefarious activities were the norm just a couple of decades ago. Today, even as businesses come and go, a strong sense of family has emerged among the merchants that has come to define the area, says Amber Arthur, owner of Izzy’s Coffee Den (74 N. Lexington).

“I think the biggest advantage is that I’m a huge fan of all the other local business owners down here,” says Arthur, echoing her colleagues up and down the street. “I’m friends with about everyone on this street that has a business. It’s a great community of people. It’s a street where we’re trying to keep … the feel of Asheville, the individuality, the funkiness. I think one of the reasons people still come to visit Asheville is its uniqueness. We definitely have our own vibe and camaraderie down here.”

Arthur, an Austin, Texas, transplant who bought Izzy’s little more than a year ago, says she’s worked on Biltmore Avenue, Wall Street and Eagle Street, among other parts of downtown, “and it’s just so different over here. It’s a cooperative, really. If I ever need anything, I can go to any one of the stores and they are going to be there to help me out. There’s one store where we know they have a big ladder if you need a ladder; there’s another store that always has a surplus of cleaning supplies when you need them. I have been here alone late nights and have had someone who’s made me extra nervous come in, and I immediately call Static Age [Records] and one of the dudes come over. We all have each other’s back, which is really nice. It rocks.”

But despite its many advantages—and perhaps due in part to them— North Lex is no more immune than other parts of downtown to changing demographics, higher rents, a lack of parking and the threat of massive redevelopment. To help protect as well as promote the neighborhood, local business owners formed the Lexington Avenue Merchants Association a couple of years ago, whose mission is to promote “Lexington Park’s independent businesses, architecture and unique arts culture by preserving its historical character and encouraging progressive development. Our mission is to represent Lexington Park as a distinctive downtown subdistrict in the community and local government.”

One of the more endangered businesses is Downtown Books & News (67 N. Lexington), a pioneer in the street’s revitalization. The store only recently learned it will be able to stay put, at least for a while, says Manager Julian Vorus.

Earlier this year, it looked as though the business might be forced to move or shut down because of the city’s desire to build a parking garage on adjacent Rankin Street. But the landlord, Vorus reports, has said that doesn’t appear imminent, and the store now plans to remain at its present location for the foreseeable future. If the city did move on the garage plan, it would give the store 90 days notice, says Vorus, who fervently hopes the business can stay put.

Still, despite their best efforts, Vorus and company—merchants and customers alike—are fearful of the street losing its character due to factors beyond their control.

“I’d kind of like to see it stay the same,” says Vorus. “But you know, when this store and a few others started opening up, I’m sure there were people down here that were concerned about the changes, and they didn’t want to see their culture change either. There was probably hillbillies around here when Vanderbilt came that didn’t want to lose their culture, too. … I guess I’m just mainly worried about the street going too upscale and losing its oddness.”

Meanwhile, the issues of crime, panhandlers and the plain unsavory haven’t totally vanished. But even those occasional problems have diminished, merchants say, and the situation is getting better as business turnover lessens and they increasingly take a no-tolerance attitude toward those who seek either to disrupt or take advantage of the street’s positive image.

Courtney Bloomfield, owner of Shady Grove Fine Flowers (65 N. Lexington), says the merchants are resolved to keep the good vibrations flowing as long as possible.

“The overall future direction of the street is to keep and maintain the community and represent it the way we are right now,” she says. And LAAF, now in its seventh year, can only help maintain the vibe, she adds.

“I think exposure [through the festival] and people getting a taste of what this community is like, and getting a real Asheville picture, is really important [to our future],” says Bloomfield.

For more information on North Lexington Avenue businesses, go to http://www.historiclexingtonpark.com.

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by Alli Marshall in Vol. 15 / Iss. 06 on 09/03/2008

Related topics: LAAFF, Arts2People

Fantastical times two: Artist Phil Cheney created this year’s LAAFF poster with mirror images.

My elementary school art teacher was big on paint-by-numbers, the “proper” way to draw a tree and memorizing the titles of works by the masters. Despite him, I grew up to love visual art. But the first time I saw local visionary artist Bob Seven set up his imagery-emblazoned Emerge-N-See bus (complete with colorful folk paintings and life-size games), I knew I’d encountered a real art teacher. Seven might be a professor in the university of life, but his hands-on approach to visual art makes creative work immediately accessible both to children and adults.

The same can be said of painter/illustrator Phil Cheney (long known as the live painter with local music collective Snake Oil Medicine Show), though Cheney considers himself somewhat of a student at Seven’s knee.

“He’s this amazing creative wizard,” Cheney says of his friend. The two applied for mini-grants from Arts2People to bring an interactive arts program to this year’s Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival. That hands-on experience takes place under the I-240 overpass at the north end of Lexington Avenue, where Cheney and Seven plan to set up an artist’s corral, including hula hooper Melanie “MelMacPink” MacNeil of Asheville Hoops and live painter Nicole Potter.

“When Snake Oil plays, we’ll all paint,” Cheney promises of himself, Seven and Potter.

Though Cheney is no longer a fixture with that band, his work (poster art, CD covers) remains linked to the group. The colorful, fantastical caricatures that Cheney created over the years seem a fitting extension of Snake Oil—though one of his murals is equally at home at Asheville Pizza company on Merrimon Avenue. Cheney’s art has also graced the posters for the French Broad River Festival and the Sherman, N.Y.-based Our Fest for more than a decade.

This year, the artist was hand-picked to craft the poster for LAAFF. Of the fanciful, airborne characters he designed, Cheney says, “It’s sort of like these people are all up in the sky like they jumped on a trampoline and then got snapped into place and freeze-framed.”

The finished piece also showcases Cheney’s latest passion: creating mirror images.

Inspired by both his photographer friend Rene Treece and the evolution of his own ideas, documented in his sketchbooks, Cheney used computer programs to duplicate and reverse his images. The result: a sort of controlled chaos. This is still the hyperactive Yellow Submarine world in which Cheney’s subconscious seems to dwell, but with an element of balanced precision revealing a method to the cheerful madness.

“Art is something we all need,” Cheney says. “I want to go to that place, and be involved, and be moved.”

And so he and Seven invite others into their creative worlds, through the Emerge-N-See bus’ games, the music-provoked live painting and the up-close-and-personal art outpost at this year’s LAAFF.

The complete schedule

Greenlife Electric Stage

• Town Mountain (bluegrass), 11 a.m.
• Jon Scales Fourchestra (steel-drum fusion), noon.
• David Earl and the Plowshares (folk and gospel), 1 p.m.
• Kitchen Furniture Drum Ensemble (drumming), 1:50 p.m.
• Shannon Whitworth (country), 2:15 p.m.
• Firecracker Jazz Band (vintage jazz), 3:20 p.m.
• Crystal Kind (reggae), 4:30 p.m.
• Tall Bike Experience (tall-bike rider Mike Mooney attempts to set a world record), 5:30 p.m.
• Snake Oil Medicine Show (bluegrass-reggae eclectica), 6:15 p.m.
• Jar-E (soul), 7:45 p.m.
• Asheville Horns (live horn section), 8:55 p.m.
• Josh Phillips Folk Festival (upbeat folk-jam CD release), 9:15 p.m.

Mountain Xpress Performing Arts Stage
• Vertigo Jazz Project (experimental jazz), 11 a.m.
• Duende Mountain Duo (electronica), 11:30 a.m.
• Asheville Dance Revolution (children’s modern-dance project), 12:05 p.m.
• The Honeycutters (country), 12:30 p.m.
• Moving Women (dance collective), 1:15 p.m.
• Secret Agent 23 Skidoo (hip-hop music for kids), 1:25 p.m.
• Hip Hop Revolution (children’s hip-hop dance project), 2:05 p.m.
• Hunab Kru (break-dance troupe), 2:40 p.m.
• Ensemble Djembeso (master drummers from West Africa), 3:20
• Lisa Zahiya (belly dance), 4 p.m.
• Josh Blake (singer/songwriter), 4:45 p.m.
• The Sireens (lush harmonies), 5:20 p.m.
• Hellblinki Sextet (ironically named punk-folk trio), 6:05 p.m.
• South French Broads (experimental rock and performance art), 6:40 p.m.
• The Broomstars (pop rock), 7:20 p.m.
• The Runaway Circus and the Loose Caboose (sideshow high jinks), 8 p.m.
• Ruby Slippers with Mingle and DJ Atrophy (jazzy pop), 8:45 p.m.
• Unifire Theatre (fire dancers), 9:20 p.m.

Earth Fare BoBo Stage
• Arundas (world), 12:30 p.m.
• Brian McGee & the Hollow Speed (Americana), 1:30 p.m.
• Pierce Edens (Americana), 2:30 p.m.
• Angi West (singer/songwriter), 3:30 p.m.
• Ba Man Bia (world), 4:30 p.m.
• Secret B-Sides (neo-soul), 5:30 p.m.
• Sirius. B (absurdist fusion), 6:30 p.m.
• Cabo Verde (Latin), 7:30 p.m.
• Chakra Bird (experimental trio), 8:30 p.m.

The Freaky Tiki
• All-day DJ music (inside the courtyard near Mela Indian restaurant) with Sex Panther, Brett Rock, DJ Trevor, DJ jOshU and Gilbot.

Shady Grove Courtyard
• Old-time string music (hosted by Leigh Hilliard), 1-3 p.m.
• LAAFF Grass (the best of Asheville bluegrass pickers), 3-6 p.m.
• Circle for Song (hosted by Jenny Juice), 6-8 p.m.

LAAFF Aftermath
• The Nightcaps at BoBo Gallery, 10 p.m.
• Trouble at Emerald Lounge, 10 p.m.

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by Alli Marshall in Vol. 15 / Iss. 06 on 09/03/2008

Related topics: LAAFF, Arts2People

by A.M.

Kitty Love, the mastermind behind nonprofit arts promoter Arts2People and creator of the Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival, says she’s felt at times “like the pawn of some ascended master.” A very community-oriented ascended master, at that.

For Love (who, seven years ago, had just opened the since-closed Lexington Avenue-based art gallery Sky People), those directions were delivered with build-an-ark clarity.

“The purpose of the festival was to promote Lexington as an important piece of the cultural community, and to support the businesses because a lot of them were based in creative ideas,” she says. “Also, just to promote the idea of moving the money around in a local fashion.”

Inspired, at least idealistically, by the Burning Man project (an annual art-and-community event held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert), Love says her goal for LAAFF was “to create a cultural upheaval of radical self-expression.” However, unlike over-the-top, remotely located Burning Man, LAAFF attendees don’t “have to wear a space suit and travel to the middle of nowhere,” she says.

Along with that concept of radical self-expression (festivalgoers are invited to arrive in costume, participate in interactive events and even apply for mini-grants to produce their own LAAFF performances and installations) comes what Love calls “radical self-responsibility for creating one’s own community.”

“The idea is stolen from Burning Man,” she says. “Produce as much if not more than you consume.”

LAAFF’s strictly local policy is a means of leading by example. Visitors to the festival have the opportunity to experience just how many locally made products and services are available within Asheville. And while the day-long celebration is all about fun and games, Love hopes attendees walk away with the idea that they can make the choice to support the local economy.

So, seven years into LAAFF’s colorful evolution, how does the event’s instigator view her creation?

“It’s the idea of the incredible beauty and majesty of each person’s individual artistic bent, and giving that a vessel,” she muses. “It’s already evolved past the mission of celebrating Lexington Avenue. The new frontier is celebrating grassroots creative culture.”

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